Meteorites fall abundantly in Morocco’s deserts. The University Museum of Meteorites, at Ibn Zohr University, helps keep them in the kingdom and available for study.
The museum is the first of its kind in the Arab world and Africa, according to Abderrahmane Ibhi, its president and founder. Ibhi is a professor of geology at Ibn Zohr University, located in Agadir, in southern Morocco. He is also one of Morocco’s meteorite hunters.
The museum currently holds more than 150 meteorite pieces from Morocco and other Arab countries, Europe and Asia, Ibhi told Al-Fanar Media. The collection includes pieces from “meteorites of important scientific value, such as the Martian Tissint meteorite, lunar meteorites, and a piece of the Chelyabinsk meteorite that landed in Russia years ago,” he said.
Keeping Meteorites in Morocco
Meteorites are pieces of solid cosmic material that fall to Earth. The university established the museum in 2016 to preserve the scientific significance of these space rocks and to bring them closer to students and scholars.
“Since its establishment, the museum has played important scientific roles, including bringing meteorites closer to students and scholars.”Abderrahmane Ibhi
A professor of geology and the museum’s founder
One of the museum’s two sections is dedicated to displaying the museum’s collection of meteorites, along with detailed information about them. The second presents audio-visual shows and documentaries about meteors and astronomy. The museum also offers information on how to search for meteorites, the tools used, and statistics and locations of Moroccan meteorite landings.
Ibhi said that establishing a museum of meteorites at the university was a dream he had had for years.
“Since its establishment, the museum has played important scientific roles, including bringing meteorites closer to students and scholars,” he said.
It also has saved Moroccan meteorites from being lost, or taken out of the country illegally, he added.
Morocco is known as a hub for marketing meteorites globally, and many have been smuggled through the kingdom from North African deserts to international collectors.
Specialized Studies of Meteorites
Ibn Zohr University’s Faculty of Science study provides specialized modules in meteorites and astronomy for geology students. The University Museum of Meteorites provides them with training and practical experience. It also allows them to work closely on meteorite samples without having to travel through deserts to search for them.
One Ph.D. student, Lahcen Aknine, said the museum had helped him learn how to discover and classify meteorites, and carry out studies on samples in the university labs.
“The museum saved me a lot of effort and the time it would have taken me to travel to other countries, looking for things that are already available in the museum,” said Aknine.
In his doctoral thesis on “Meteorites of Africa”, Aknine worked on the Toufassour meteorite, which fell in the Tata region in southeast Morocco in 2007. “I conducted mineral and petrological studies on it and found important results that added academic credit to the University Museum of Meteorites and Ibn Zohr University,” he said.
Scholars and students from inside and outside Morocco frequent the museum, which has also become a tourist destination for visitors to Agadir.
The museum’s organisers are using digital technologies to increase its reach.
“The team is currently working on developing the virtual and interactive museum project, in cooperation with Souss-Massa Innovation City in Agadir,” said Ibhi. “The museum will soon be enhanced with 360-degree virtual tour technology. Visitors will be able to interactively dive into the world of meteorites and astronomy, using the latest technologies available in international museums.”
“The museum saved me a lot of effort and the time it would have taken me to travel to other countries, looking for things that are already available in the museum.”Lahcen Aknine
A Ph.D. student
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The museum will also employ 3D scanning technology to allow its meteorites to be reproduced using a 3D printer. “This will enable the museum’s management to produce models that simulate some of the rare original pieces of meteorites,” Ibhi explained.
Spreading Meteorite Culture
The University Museum of Meteorites plans to go beyond its scientific role and spread the culture of meteorites, Ibhi said. The idea is to help “amateurs, nomadic meteorite hunters and others, to identify the nature of the stones they pick up in the deserts.”
Ibhi has produced two books on meteorites: “Meteors: The Mini Guide”, which was published in Arabic and French and was the first Arab and African guide on meteorites, and “The Guide to Meteorites”, which relates the stories of more than a hundred meteorites.
He wants to spread interest in meteorites as widely as possible, to enrich Arabic scientific literature and fill a gap in specialized publications about meteoritic sciences.
To read more about the work of academic scientists in Morocco, see the following selected articles from Al-Fanar Media’s archives:
- “The Cradle of Humankind Could Be in North, Not East Africa”
- “Discovery of Oldest Human Remains Fosters Moroccan Pride”
- “Morocco Makes a Bid in Renewable-Energy Research”
- “Moroccan Researcher Follows Impact of Climate Change”
- “The Twin Missions of a Moroccan Scientist”